Food photography is an art. While owning a DSLR doesn’t make you a photographer, clicking a picture on your i-phone when the food is served doesn’t make you a food photographer. No skills come free! You need to invest time, commitment, learn, and most importantly, practice what you learn. Food photography is no exception. While any camera person can capture a Mcdonald’s hamburger, a skilled food photographer can evoke appetite appeal with the practice they have had to turn a simple burger into a masterpiece. The term “camera person” instead of “photographer” in the first case because, well, you earn that designation!
Even if you’re not a professional photographer, you can take great food photographs with the right tips.
Here are 5 essential tips to make your food photography perfect:
- Use natural light whenever possible with a bit of reflection when needed.
- Shoot from different angles for variety.
- Use props to enhance the story of a dish.
- Adding in the human element to give connectivity.
- Utilizing good composition and balance in your image.
Natural Light for Food Photography
When it comes to food photography, natural light is always the best option. It offers a softer, more flattering light than artificial light sources, and it’s less likely to create harsh shadows or unflattering reflections. In addition, natural light is free (assuming you’re shooting outdoors or near a large window) and consistent, which means you can count on it. One Side note, you can use artificial light with the right modification and softening effects. I quite often will use an additional artificial lighting source to add in on the dark side of the dish.
If you’re shooting indoors, try to position your subject near a large window to take advantage of the natural light. And if you need the extra bit of fill I like to suggest using a reflector to bounce the natural light back into the dish’s dark side. This will balance the lookout just slightly without making it feel too flat.
Shoot from different angles for variety.
When you take pictures of food, shooting from different angles can make all the difference in the final product. You can’t assume that every dish can be photographed at the same angle. Some food when shot from above will look like a large pile of nothing while other dishes might look amazing with their different shapes and color. Then, for example, you can shoot a sandwich from above and have no context to what it is… Shooting a sandwich from a very low angle on the other hand can make it looks engaging, enticing, and delicious.
This is why you should always try and shoot all the way around the dish so that you can find its best angles. A great side-benefit to this is that you can also get a ton of great content this way and be able to get capture a dish once and come away with several images to use.
Use props to enhance the story of a dish.
While the majority of the food photographers ignore or lacks knowledge of it, food props play a major role in creating an impact on the picture. Food props may comprise the ingredients you are using, different table surfaces, cutlery & silverware, glassware or drinks, napkins (cloth if possible), or other random by simple things around a location that can enhance the dish without taking the focus away. Be sure to garnish with fresh salad and leafy greens or sauces at the last moment before shooting as these items can wilt quickly and look unappetizing.
Props should never take your eye away from the main focus yet they should add texture and depth to the composition. A lot of food photographs can look quite sterile when they’re taken out of context. That is, the viewer has no idea where the food was prepared, who made it, or what the story behind it is. By adding in some context to your shots, you can really help bring the photograph. Remember that less can be more here.
Adding in the human element to give connectivity.
When you’re looking at a food photograph, it’s often nice to see a human connection in the shot. This could be as simple as someone’s hand reaching in to grab a bite of the food, or it could be a more involved portrait of a person enjoying their meal. By adding in the human element, you give the viewer a way for them to imagine themselves enjoying that meal through what’s called “vicarious consumption.” A hand, body, mouth, or whole person, can add great connective context to the photo.
Utilizing good composition and balance in your image.
Food photography is an art form in and of itself. It takes a keen eye for detail, good composition, and balance to capture the beauty of food in a photograph. When all of these elements come together, the result can be a stunning image that makes the viewer feel as if they are right there in the kitchen with you, enjoying the meal themselves. Once you have the lighting, the props, and the angle for the dish it is now time to position it in the frame to make it have a purpose.
You as the photographer have the choice to make the viewer see what you want and focus anywhere in the image. This is done through your frame composition. Using things like the rule of thirds, symmetry, geometry, and the golden circle to name a few can help you pull the attention to the part of the plate or dish that want to be focused on.
So, what are you waiting for? Start snapping some amazing food photos with these tips and watch your Instagram following (and blog traffic) grow. With these five essential tips, you will be well on your way to taking better food photos. Not only will your photos look better, but you’ll be able to tell a more interesting story about the food you’re photographing. Don’t forget to add a human element to bring your audience into the frame. Just remember to keep practicing and have fun with it!
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